On any given day in a large organization, managers make dozens if not hundreds of decisions, both large and small. How many units are getting out the door? How well are employees performing? Are there supply chain issues or problems recruiting new hires? Is distribution functioning smoothly?
While some leaders spend their days immersed in these day-to-day, short-term operational issues, strategic leaders focus on the big picture—where the organization is going and how to best utilize talent to get there.
In this blog, we’ll look at exactly what it means to be a strategic leader. We’ll examine the top skills and qualities associated with senior-level leadership, as well as how you can become a strategic leader in your own right.
Defining Strategic Leadership
Strategic leadership is when managers use their creative problem-solving skills and strategic vision to help team members and an organization achieve long-term goals.
More specifically, according to Margaret Andrews, instructor of Strategic Leadership, a professional development program in the Harvard Division of Continuing Education, strategic leadership is not so much a clear-cut leadership style as a mindset — “that you want to be strategic about your leadership.”
“Strategic leadership is about understanding yourself and your goals,” she says. “It’s about understanding the situation, considering options, and deciding. It’s also about getting the best out of people, the best out of the situation, so that the organization does well. Leaders who lead strategically have done the inner work necessary to lead with integrity, vision, and purpose.”
The concept of strategic leadership is not always straightforward. Leading strategically actually requires a manager to choose from among a variety of leadership styles depending on the situation and the people involved. Such leadership styles might include:
- Authoritarian leadership: when a leader imposes expectations and defines outcomes
- Participative leadership: when a leader involves team members in the decision-making process
- Delegative leadership: when a leader delegates tasks to other team members
- Transactional leadership: when a leader rewards or punishes team members in an effort to complete a task.
- Transformational leadership: when a leader uses a vision to inspire and motivate others
- Servant leadership: when a leader serves others by putting the needs of employees first, helping them develop to perform at higher levels
“It’s about using the leadership style that fits the situation at hand,” notes Andrews.
What Are the Top Skills and Qualities of Strategic Leaders?
Adept strategic leaders have cultivated a special skill set beyond the obvious ones—being trustworthy, developing a strategic plan, and delegating—often cited in business textbooks and blogs.
Skills centered around emotional intelligence, the soft “people skills,” are the traits that allow strategic leaders to successfully adapt to an ever-changing economic and technological climate, remaining forward-looking and able to see industry trends and directions long before others in an organization do.
Passion, purpose, and conviction are what make strategic leaders “visionary.”
Some of the most important characteristics of someone who leads strategically include:
They Know Who They Are
“They really understand themselves, who they are and what matters,” says Andrews. “They know their values.”
They Are Interested in Others
Strategic leaders want to hear from team members, and they listen attentively as part of their leadership strategy. As a result, team members naturally feel more invested. Andrews references a famous quote of Theodore Roosevelt: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
“There’s an element of truth in that,” she says. “People want direction. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to have their own ideas for how to achieve great things considered as well.”
They Are Good Communicators
It goes without saying that leaders who think strategically speak clearly in ways that others can easily understand. But there is an added dimension — good listening skills, the second trait in our list. Good communicators listen closely enough to hear the reservations of those wavering on the fence and are able to create buy-in by addressing those concerns.
In addition, they are aware how their words, actions, and moods affect their teammates, and can calibrate their words and actions accordingly.
Because they’re good listeners, with a good dose of empathy and compassion included in the mix, they can be very effective at motivating team members. Engaged employees are more likely to do good work, persist through problems, innovate, and contribute to the overall strategy.
They Are Open-Minded
Strategic leaders encourage and seek out diverse points of view.
“The easy problems are solved, and we’re left with the harder problems which need new ways of thinking, which often come from a diverse team,” says Andrews. “We need different points of view, which come from different vantage points, educational paths, and personal and professional experiences.”
Who Are Some Examples of Strategic Leaders?
Leaders who exemplify some of the qualities found in great strategic leadership abound. Below are four different types of leaders who demonstrate at least one of the traits of a strategic leader.
Oprah Winfrey @Oprah:The Great Communicator
Winfrey started off as the first black local news anchor at a Nashville television station, only to become one of the wealthiest businesswomen in the world as CEO of Harpo Inc. a multimedia production company. Although she has been hailed as the most powerful business woman in the world by Forbes thanks to her business acumen, she is best known in her more humble role as a day-time talk show host. In 25 seasons on the set of “Oprah,” she displayed a down-to-earth, relatable communication style that embodied attentive listening, empathy, compassion, and the ability to connect with people from radically different backgrounds.
Howard Schultz @HowardSchultz: Knowing His Purpose
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, made the radical decision to offer benefits for workers at the end of his first year as CEO of the coffee chain. At the time, it was virtually unheard of in the fast-food industry. Schultz, however, had grown up with a truck driving father who had no health insurance after breaking an ankle. Schultz was able to use his passion and sense of mission to persuade the Starbucks board to offer health insurance to baristas, even those working part-time.
Jacinda Ardern @jacindaardern: Interested in Others
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been applauded around the world for her substantial leadership skills and steady hand during a crisis. She is often praised for her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which she was able to keep levels of infection in the country relatively low. According to industry professionals, she “focuses on ‘we’ not ‘I,’” listens to expert advice and acts on what she hears, and acknowledges both her strengths and weaknesses, engendering trust.
Jeff Bezos @jeffbezos: Open to Big Ideas
Chairman and former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos was able to transform his online bookstore into the world’slargest internet company by revenue, and the largest provider of virtual assistants and cloud infrastructure services. His vision was indeed of Amazonian proportions and has consequently changed the world. His innovation mindset and willingness to embrace bold new ideas means that his empire continues to grow, from moving Amazon into providing streaming movies to taking on sub-orbital spaceflight with his company Blue Origin.
How to Become a Strategic Leader
By now, it should be obvious that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to strategic leadership.
People who lead strategically come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in every arena, from politics, to entertainment, to business, and beyond.
But despite their variety of backgrounds, interests, and styles, there is one basic thing strategic leaders seem to know: “Leadership is the human side of business,” says Andrews. “That’s how we get things done, through other people, and that’s what leadership is about, since no two situations are alike.”
What is leadership and professional development? ›
Leadership and professional development unlocks value at all levels. For the individual, this means honing their skills, learning new tools, and growing as a professional, whether that means focusing on leadership or broadening and deepening capabilities in their career. As individuals develop, organizations flourish.What makes a strategic leader? ›
Key traits of an effective strategic leader include loyalty to the organization's vision, judicious use of power, transparency, effective communication, problem-solving, readiness to delegate, passion for their job, compassion, and empathy for others and self-awareness.What are leadership development programs? ›
A leadership development program helps build an individual's leadership skill and capacity to excel, both personally and professionally, in their role and organization. The best leadership development programs are research-based and build needed competencies while preparing leaders to tackle the challenges they face.What are the best leadership courses? ›
- Udemy. Think Like a Leader With Brian Tracy.
- edX. Becoming a Successful Leader (Inclusive Leadership Training)
- edX. MicroMasters® Program in Business Leadership.
- edX. Agile Leadership Principles and Practices.
- Coursera. ...
- Coursera. ...
- Future Learn. ...
- Columbia University Business School.
- Keeping up with technology, systems, processes.
- Learning about new developments in your field.
- Improving existing skills.
Below are the top five.
- Management and leadership training. ...
- Professional certifications. ...
- Technical skills training. ...
- Teamwork and interpersonal skills training.
- Strong Communication. Without a doubt, being an effective communicator is a top attribute of a strategic leader. ...
- Good Listening Skills. ...
- Passion & Commitment. ...
- Positivity. ...
- Innovation. ...
- Collaboration. ...
- Honesty. ...
- The ability to develop collective goals and objectives.
- The ability to create purpose.
- The ability to generate and maintain enthusiasm.
- The ability to create the conditions for autonomous decision making.
- The ability to create a meaningful identity.
Examples Of Strategic Leadership
This phenomenal increase can be attributed to the strategic management and leadership of Jeff Bezos. His strategy focused on things that don't change. Instead of short-term gains, he has focused on long-term growth.
The fundamental 4 leadership skills everyone needs, no matter their role, are self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility.
What are the 2 most important key to effective leadership? ›
They found that: Trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization. Effective communication by leadership was the key to winning organizational trust and confidence.What are the three 3 main ideal leadership qualities? ›
The three traits that are discussed here are character, vision, and relationship effectiveness. It needs to be mentioned that these three are not the only traits but more like these traits are essential to leadership. In other words, these traits are necessary but not exhaustive.What are the top 7 keys to successful leadership? ›
- Don't take It all too seriously. Without a doubt, running a company is serious business. ...
- Recognize achievements. Every employee wants to do a good job. ...
- Set goals. ...
- Delegate wisely. ...
- Think about lasting solutions. ...
- Make time for employees. ...
Mention what you hope to do in the immediate future to grow professionally and advance your skill set, which can include working in the position for which you're interviewing. From here, detail your long-term aspirations and motivations for achieving such objectives.What are four 4 features of a good professional development plan? ›
- Step One: Request a self-assessment from the staff member.
- Step Two: Develop your assessment of the individual's skill level.
- Step Three: Assess the department and organization's needs.
- Step Four: Explore development opportunities with the staff member.
Learning new abilities, earning certifications, gaining more experience in a specific field, moving forward in your company, and pursuing any other career aspirations are all examples of professional development goals.What are the 2 areas that the leader could work on to improve? ›
- Master the art of communication. ...
- Improve your ability to motivate others. ...
- Learn to set goals clearly. ...
- Make sure your team feels appreciated. ...
- Make time for one-on-one meetings. ...
- Always focus on personal development.
- Embrace your network.
- Find a mentor.
- Ask for more responsibility.
- Take performance reviews seriously.
- Master your industry.
- Further your education.
- Encourage professional development.
- Create a development plan.
- Pair employees with mentors.
- Help them build their networks.
- Challenge employees with assignments.
- Show employees you trust them.
- Jeff Bezos: Amazon's founder and former CEO is a perfect example of how thinking about the big picture can lead an organization to success. ...
- Bill Gates: Microsoft's founder is another leader who used strategic planning to propel his company forward.
What is an example of strategic leadership? ›
A great example of a company that used strategic leadership is TDIndustries. The CEO of the company welcomed feedback and challenges. He even shared meals with his employees periodically to make sure that he could receive honest and open feedback.What is the most effective strategic leadership style? ›
The democratic leadership style is one of the most effective because it encourages everyone to participate in all processes, share their opinions, and know that you will hear them. It also encourages employees to be engaged because they know you will hear their feedback.How do you develop strategic leadership skills? ›
- Anticipate. Most companies and control are inadequate in detecting unclear risks and opportunities on the outside of their company. ...
- Challenge. Strategic thinkers can challenge their own task and others' assumptions and motivate divergent viewpoints. ...
- Interpret. ...
- Decide. ...
- They're always learning. ...
- They always seek advice from others. ...
- They're not afraid to take risks. ...
- They never forget organisational purpose.
You can develop strategic thinking in your everyday life. For example, you go on a trip and pack our things, thinking ahead and assuming what you need to take in case of bad weather, an illness, losing documents or money.What are the Six C's of leadership? ›
In this book, Nelson introduces the six “C's” of leading teams to commitment and buy-in: culture, communication, consistency, collaboration, connection, and the culminating “C,” commitment.What are the qualities of a good leader? ›
Good leaders possess self-awareness, garner credibility, focus on relationship-building, have a bias for action, exhibit humility, empower others, stay authentic, present themselves as constant and consistent, become role models and are fully present.What are the three pillars of leader development? ›
The three pillars of leader development are institutional training, unit expertise, and self development.What are the 3 most important roles of a leader? ›
1) Leaders need to have clear goals and objectives; 2) They need to motivate their followers and provide them with direction; 3) They must support their team members in order for them to succeed.What are the 5 most important roles of a leader? ›
- Training new hires.
- Communicating in a transparent and constructive manner.
- Encouraging the staff to collaborate so that the business can profit.
- Obtaining input and settling disputes.
- Enabling each employee to realise his or her own potential and advance within the organisation.
What makes a great leader in the workplace? ›
What Makes an Effective Leader. Effective leaders have the ability to communicate well, motivate their team, handle and delegate responsibilities, listen to feedback, and have the flexibility to solve problems in an ever-changing workplace.How do leaders gain power? ›
Corporate leaders can acquire position and power by putting the company's success before their own. They constantly apply their strengths and ideas toward the organization's future.What are the three greatest strengths of a good leader? ›
- Situational awareness.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Effective negotiation skills.
- Conflict resolution skills.
- Collaboration skills and intercultural sensitivity.
- Ability to work with different personal styles and approaches.
While all values in leadership are significant, humility and respect are the most important to me. At times humility can be confused with low self-esteem or underestimating of one's talents. I believe humility is being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.Why is leadership professional development important? ›
Leadership development boosts employee engagement, increases the organization's ability to deal with gaps in the talent pipeline, and reduces the headaches and costs associated with turnover. Great leaders attract, hire, and inspire great people.What does leadership mean in ROTC? ›
Leadership is the ability (or process) to influence, lead, or guide in order to accomplish a mission in the manner desired. Leadership is a process providing purpose, direction and motivation. ● Purpose gives others a reason for why they should do something.What is the role of leadership in personal and professional development? ›
So, we can conclude that professional development of subordinates is directly connected with leadership style because this development is understood as the growth and maturation of knowledge, skills, and attitudes acquired throughout workers' lives, as a result of learning-at-work actions.What is meant by professional development? ›
Professional development is the act of taking steps to get ahead in your career. This could be learning practical skills to help you perform better or becoming active in your industry through networking and attending events. Improving yourself professionally is a continual process.What can I gain from a leadership development program? ›
Through leadership skills training, managers can learn how to create a vision for their team and how to inspire others to achieve it. They can also learn how to delegate tasks, build trust, and handle conflict.What is the most important part of professional development? ›
The Most Important Part of Development
Employee development inspires workers to be loyal and produce innovative ideas. When you give employees a chance to sharpen their skills and expand what they know, they can give their new ideas back to the organization.
How can I improve my professional development? ›
- Make a project around your development. ...
- Minimize past successes. ...
- Be a priority fanatic. ...
- Continue to add connections. ...
- Be a continuous learner. ...
- Embrace change. ...
- Think different.
The authors discovered that when leaders experience their personal best, they display five core practices: they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Jim and Barry called these behaviors The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.How do you demonstrate leadership skills at work? ›
- Be a thought leader. Get a reputation for knowing your stuff and being on the leading edge of your industry. ...
- Join a professional association. ...
- Look at the big picture. ...
- Be positive and proactive. ...
- Listen and learn. ...
- Network with purpose. ...
- Find a mentor. ...
- Embrace diversity and inclusion.
- Relationship building.
- Agility and adaptability.
- Innovation and creativity.
- Employee motivation.
- Conflict management.
- Critical Thinking.
Professional development goals are goals you set for yourself and your team to encourage career growth. They act as benchmarks to measure your progress as you work toward long-term goals. These more short-term goals can be developing new skills, enhancing existing skills, or seeking feedback from your team.What should I write for professional development? ›
- Develop a new skill set. ...
- Develop your workplace skills. ...
- Take up leadership responsibilities. ...
- Expand your professional network. ...
- Level-up your credentials. ...
- Consume media in your field. ...
- Find other ways to deepen job satisfaction. ...
- Take a relevant course.
The purpose of professional development is to improve knowledge and skills in order to facilitate individual, school-wide, and district-wide improvements for the purpose of increasing student achievement.